Pandora has long been the most popular music streaming service. In a survey last year, it had a 31% market share in the U.S., while iTunes Radio by Apple had only 8%.
A lot of that popularity came down to Pandora entering the market early.
Some of it also supposedly came down to doing internet radio better than the competition. Pandora certainly works harder on sorting music than anyone else.
The company has long talked about its ambitious Music Genome Project, an attempt to “capture the essence of music at the most fundamental level,” which relies on hundreds of music experts listening to four songs per hour and classifying them by characteristics like “east coast rap roots,” “electronica influences,” “a knack for catchy hooks,” and “danceable beats.”
By measuring user behavior against this vast database, it is meant to predict what people want to hear better than anyone else.
Other internet radio services, like iTunes Radio, serve up music through relatively simple collaborative filtering, analyzing user behavior against other user behavior to predict who will like what.
As cool as Pandora’s process sounds, I’m not convinced that laborious human involvement allows for better sorting than sophisticated data analysis (even if some critics, like “radio futurologist” James Cridland have claimed it’s much better than the “surprisingly me-too product” iTunes Radio). Indeed, it seems logical to me that well-made software would spot patterns in listening that go beyond relatively simple characteristics that humans come up with.
When I tried iTunes Radio for a few months earlier this year, I was happy with it and found it comparable to Pandora, which I’ve used occasionally for years.
Can anyone out there give a convincing argument that Pandora is superior?
We may have to run a highly scientific test here at Business Insider …
In any case, the game shifted this week with the release of Apple Music. Apple Music combines the old iTunes Radio with a revamped version of Beats (for people who want streaming playlists and albums) plus the human-run Beats1 radio station plus access to albums bought the old-fashioned way through iTunes. In combining all of those things — and coming preinstalled on all Apple products — it seems inevitable that this app will become wildly popular.
As lots of people move to Apple Music for all kinds of music needs, they are more likely to try out Apple’s internet radio and less likely to switch apps to open Pandora.
In other words, Pandora’s first-mover advantage could be in big trouble. If this is so, then the company’s success depends on proving it can deliver better radio thanks to that ambitious, mysterious, and perhaps quixotic Music Genome Project.
It’s worth noting that Pandora stock is down 48% over the past year.
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